Steelers' Chris Wormley: Tumultuous 2020 season 'made me a better person'

PITTSBURGH -- Chris Wormley remembers training at the Baltimore Ravens facility in March 2020 when the topic of coronavirus was first brought up. Two days later, he wasn’t allowed back in the building. A week after that, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For the 27-year-old defensive end, the upheaval -- a new team, a new city and a move with a newborn, all in the midst of a pandemic -- took a toll on his mental health.

Add in the early training camp injury that lingered throughout the season and a three-week stint on the Injured Reserve List, and Wormley admits he really struggled at times during 2020.

“There were a lot of times where I had a piss-poor attitude when it came to feeling rejected by the Ravens, being locked down in a pandemic and on top of that, going to a new team,” Wormley told ESPN. “Just a lot of stress. On top of that, being hurt, that adds a whole other level of anxiety and unknown. … Just a lot of things that have happened over the last year or so that’s really made me challenge myself and challenge my mental health. I think it’s made me a better person.”

Because of his tumultuous 2020 season, Wormley, who started 15 games in three seasons with the Ravens, didn’t think he’d be back in Pittsburgh. He was ready to hit the reset button in yet another new city on another new team. Instead, the Steelers signed him to a two-year, $4.5 million deal early in free agency. After playing just 148 snaps a year ago, he figures to be a key depth player behind defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.

“We’re willing to give Pittsburgh another chance,” Wormley said. “It’s a team that values the defensive line. They’re a great organization. Looking back at it now, two months removed from free agency, I think we made the right decision, for sure.”

Wormely shared part of his story Thursday with Pittsburgh-area students as part of a panel discussing mental health that also included Carnegie Mellon softball coach Monica Harrison and Pitt volleyball player Chinaza Ndee. For Wormley, normalizing everyday conversations about mental health is important -- especially because it’s not something he did as an athlete growing up.

“In sports sometimes, you were taught to just deal with it,” said Wormley, who was a third-round pick of the Ravens in 2017. “Deal with the pain or deal with coaches yelling at you or things not going your way. … It was a put-up or shut-up thing. ... I think being in that environment my whole entire life, aided to me being a more guarded person. I give a lot of credit to my wife. Nowadays, it’s way more acceptable to talk about it and there’s a lot more resources to get help and just being able to express yourself and feel comfortable doing that.”

Not only does Wormley credit his wife and daughter with anchoring him and bringing him joy in tough times, he also has found the NFL has resources to help its players talk about mental health on a daily basis.

“There’s a stigma of you’re this big tough guy who doesn’t have any problems and you can deal with it yourself,” Wormley said. “But there’s a lot of times when you just need to talk to somebody and I think even just talking to a teammate or somebody that you know has gone through a similar situation that has been brave enough and courageous enough to talk about it, I think is really important. I think the NFL as a whole has really stepped up their game when it comes to mental health awareness.”